Exploring the Middle East’s Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023
Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Oman Offers Stunning Scenery and Security
Tucked away on the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman offers intrepid travelers a wealth of natural and historical wonders to discover. Yet unlike some of its neighbors, the Sultanate has remained remarkably peaceful and avoided the turmoil unfolding elsewhere in the region.
With verdant wadis flanked by the magnificent Hajar Mountains, over 1,700 miles of scenic coastline, and the barren expanse of the Wahiba Sands desert, Oman dazzles with a diversity of landscapes. Outdoor enthusiasts can camp under the stars in the desert, hike through palm-filled canyons to hidden pools, and dive among dolphins and turtles in the azure waters of the Arabian Sea.
The interior of Oman holds fascinating vestiges of its ancient past, from 4,000-year-old tombs carved into cliffs to the mud brick ruins of Sumhuram dating back to the pre-Islamic period. In the modern capital of Muscat, gleaming mosques and souks exude old-world charm against the backdrop of the foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains.
While political unrest has deterred some travelers from visiting the Middle East in recent years, Oman stands out as an oasis of stability. The progressive leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has fostered religious tolerance and diversity, while steering clear of conflict. Low crime rates, strict security measures, and a welcoming attitude toward foreign visitors further reinforce Oman's reputation as a safe destination.
According to Eric Rosen of the New York Times, “for a visitor, the sultanate is safer than most anywhere else in the region." And Lonely Planet echoes the sentiment, stating “with few restrictions on personal freedoms, Oman is a peaceful corner of the Middle East.”
So travelers seeking to immerse themselves in Arabic culture need not rule out the Middle East. Oman offers a tranquil setting to experience Bedouin hospitality, indulge in traditional cuisine, and gain insight into an ancient civilization. Renting a 4x4 and venturing deep into the desert or hiring a local guide to lead you through souks and onto dhow boats allows you to connect with Omanis eager to share the magic of their homeland.
What else is in this post?
- Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Oman Offers Stunning Scenery and Security
- Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Jordan's Ancient Sites Beckon Despite Regional Unrest
- Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Dubai and Abu Dhabi Are Islands of Comfort in the UAE
- Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Lebanon Mixes Culture and Cuisine in a Volatile Climate
- Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Petra and More Draw Visitors to Jordan's Rich History
- Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - OMV Oil Money Keeps Neutral Oman Out of Conflict
- Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - The UAE Emerges as the Gulf's Most Popular Destination
Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Jordan's Ancient Sites Beckon Despite Regional Unrest
Despite bordering conflict zones in Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan remains a relative oasis of stability in the Middle East. While sporadic terrorist incidents have occurred, Jordan boasts low crime rates and tourists can safely explore the country's most famous draw: ancient historical sites.
Topping bucket lists is the magnificent lost city of Petra, carved into rose-hued cliffs over 2,000 years ago. Winding through a narrow gorge hemmed in by towering sandstone, you'll reach the iconic treasure-trove Treasury featured in Indiana Jones. Further along is a sprawling complex of tombs, temples, arched gates, and colonnaded streets left behind by the Nabataean civilization.
Equally impressive is the desert citadel of Amman, whose imposing walls and watchtowers seem to grow naturally from the sandstone hills. Within lies a fascinating glimpse into Roman and Byzantine eras via columns, churches, baths, and an oval-shaped forum. Just north lies the ruins of Jerash, another Greco-Roman city remarkably preserved withtriumphal arches, theaters, plazas, and colonnades.
While budget accommodations and transportation exist, Jordan offers glamping in Wadi Rum and upscale lodging in Petra if you want to elevate the experience. Stay in a bubble dome under the stars or a luxury tented camp with en-suite bathrooms and candlelit patios. Sip mint tea as the sun sets over carved cliffs behind your hotel.
Despite visa requirements, rules about dress and more planning involved, veteran travelers enthusiastically recommend Jordan. Rick Steves praises the country's alluring ancient sites and hospitable culture: "Jordanians are proud and patriotic people—and they have every reason to be. Considering the challenges faced by their country, they maintain a remarkably positive and forward-looking national spirit."
On her blog, adventurer Alice Liddell describes feeling safe as a solo female traveler in Jordan: "I never once felt unsafe, even when wandering around after dark. The Jordanian people are extremely welcoming and hospitable. Walking alone as a woman is absolutely accepted here."
According to Johnny Ward of OneStep4Ward, "You'll be mesmerized by the history and blown away by the hospitality of the local Bedouin people...It's a lot easier than you think and one of the safest countries to visit in the whole region."
Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Dubai and Abu Dhabi Are Islands of Comfort in the UAE
For those seeking modern amenities and cosmopolitan experiences in an Arabic setting, the United Arab Emirates delivers. The Gulf nations' two largest cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, shine as beacons of luxury, tolerance, and safety in an otherwise tumultuous region.
Dubai first captured the world's imagination in the 1990s, rising from a dusty port town to a glitzy metropolis in mere decades. Today's Dubai tantalizes with larger-than-life attractions like the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper, and epic shopping malls packed with designer boutiques and global cuisines.
Yet beyond the surface glitz awaits an intriguing multicultural mosaic. Wander through historicalneighborhoods like Bastakiya with wind towers and courtyards built by Persian traders in the 1800s. Listen to the call to prayer as you stroll past the Grand Mosque's minarets in Bur Dubai. Sip karak chaiwith locals at an hole-in-the wall restaurant as the buzzing Deira Souq comes alive.
The UAE's capital Abu Dhabi projects a more understated elegance with its gleaming white mosqueSheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and sprawling Emirates Palace. Yas Island offers Ferrari World's thrilling rides and indoor NYU Abu Dhabi campus. Beyond the city, desert safaris transport you to oasis towns and towering sand dunes.
According to Annette Bening, writing for the Telegraph, "Traditional it isn't, but there's an energy about Dubai that is difficult to resist, as well as a sense of order, calm and stability that stands in stark contrast with the rest of the region."
Matador Network co-founder Ross Borden describes Dubai as "an international financial center, a globalized metropolis...a Western capital deep in the Middle East. It can be difficult for outsiders to believe such a place exists until they visit."
Conde Nast Traveller reassuringly states that "Although smack in a pretty unstable region, the UAE is one of the safest places to visit in the Middle East...Dubai tends to look inwards, content in its bubble, and carries on with business as usual."
Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Lebanon Mixes Culture and Cuisine in a Volatile Climate
Lebanon holds an outsized place in the popular imagination given its diminutive size. This sliver of a country sandwiched between Syria and Israel packs an astonishing array of sights, tastes and experiences into its 4,000 square miles. Visitors seeking to immerse themselves in Levantine culture will discover Lebanon generously rewards intrepid travelers willing to look beyond volatile politics and sporadic unrest.
Start by wandering the streets of vibrant Beirut, whose nickname “the Paris of the Middle East” speaks to its sophistication as a Mediterranean capital. The city exemplifies the rich diversity of influences that shape Lebanese identity, seamlessly blending Western modernity with Arabic traditions. Sip coffee at a Parisian-style café on a palm-fringed boulevard downtown before strolling the art galleries and design boutiques of bohemian Mar Mikhael. Listen for the haunting call to prayer as you explore Beirut’s finest Oriental cuisine alongside French bistros and speakeasy cocktail bars.
Then make your way high into the mountains to explore enchanting Byblos and Baalbek. Byblos’s expanse of ruins testify to the port's prominence during the Phoenician era, while its medieval fortified Crusader-era old town exudes charm. Inland near the Syrian border sits Baalbek’s mind-boggling Roman temples, whose monumental columns dwarf mere mortals wandering through. Descending from Mount Lebanon down through the Bekaa Valley, beautiful mosques and wineries continue Lebanon’s cultural synthesis.
Lebanon’s enviable location, nestled amidst the Levantine cradle of civilization, fostered millennia of conquests and migrations that layered diverse influences. As author Anthony Bourdain writes, “Lebanon is a place where in the course of a single meal, you can eat French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Armenian and Lebanese food. It’s where religions, sects, tribes, ethnicities, political parties and warlords live more or less (though lately, less) peacefully together."
Yet Lebanon's free-spirited charm and warmth persist despite volatility in governance. Sectarian clashes tied to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, Syrian civil war, and ISIS insurgency periodically flare up and give travelers pause. However, Beirut-based guide Pauline Nassar insists "it is perhaps more important than ever that Lebanon receives tourism. When political instability remains the norm, tourism plays an important role in demonstrating that life goes on."
Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - Petra and More Draw Visitors to Jordan's Rich History
Floating in a narrow siq between imposing 200-meter sandstone cliffs, you suddenly glimpse Al-Khazneh, Petra’s awe-inspiring treasury facade. This sublime structure carved into rose-hued stone over 2,200 years ago scarcely seems possible. Yet this is only one of hundreds of tombs, temples, arched gates, obelisks, and colonnaded streets left behind by the Nabataeans in their desert capital.
Already an established commercial crossroads, Petra later became annexed into the Roman empire in 106 CE. Trajan expanded the city center with Roman engineering, adding baths, plazas and theaters. Byzantine-era churches were later built when Petra became an early seat of Christianity. The sheer scale and artistry of Petra’s ruins built up over centuries leave visitors marveling at the sophistication of this once-mighty civilization.
Yet Petra merely headlines Jordan’s embarrasment of fascinating historical sites. Just north lies Jerash, known as the “Pompeii of the East” for its incredibly preserved Greco-Roman ruins dating back to 63 BCE. Enter through Hadrian’s Arch to stroll the Oval Piazza lined by arched shops reminiscent of Palmyra in Syria. Listen as your voice echoes off the towering columns of Zeus’ temple and Jupiter’s temple overlooking the Forum. Imagine the pageantry and crowds of Jerash’s hippodrome, which could hold over 15,000 spectators for chariot races.
In Amman, the ancient Citadel still looms high above the city with imposing walls and watchtowers first built around 1800 BCE. Inside you’ll find remains of civilizations that held sway, from a Byzantine basilica to Umayyad palace to Temple of Hercules, showing Jordan’s enduring strategic importance. The evocative Roman Theater downtown could once accommodate 6,000 people to enjoy spectacle and drama.
For Lawrence of Arabia fans, don’t miss visiting Wadi Rum with its windswept sandstone and granite mountains. Immerse yourself in the desert landscape by hiring a Bedouin guide to venture into the protectorate by 4x4, camel, or on foot. Stay overnight at a luxury camp to stargaze in the clear night skies as Bedouin music floats on the breeze.
Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - OMV Oil Money Keeps Neutral Oman Out of Conflict
Tucked into the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman stands apart from its neighbors in more than just geography. While countries throughout the Middle East have been embroiled in turmoil and conflict in recent decades, Oman has maintained remarkable stability and neutrality under the steady leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. The question is, how has this nation of 4.5 million people managed to avoid the upheaval affecting so many regional players?
The answer may lie underground. Oman happens to be geologically blessed with substantial oil and natural gas reserves which contribute up to 72% of government revenue. Omani crude oil production currently hovers around 970,000 barrels per day, providing the Sultanate with immense wealth that benefits citizens and keeps unrest at bay.
Austrian oil company OMV has played a pivotal role in transforming Oman's oil fortunes since signing an exploration contract back in 2007. OMV invested $3.5 billion into developing Oman's largest oil and gas field, Mukhaizna, effectively doubling the country's crude oil production. This new revenue stream allowed the government to create over 215,000 jobs for Omanis and fund diverse economic projects.
"Petrol dollars enable the state to provide well-paid, secure government jobs for Omanis" explains Marc Valeri, a political scientist at the University of Exeter. Unlike neighbors struggling with unemployment and economic uncertainty, Omanis enjoy a relatively high standard of living and state benefits. This takes pressure off the population and reduces resentment that could fuel dissent.
According to Clemens Chicek, former CEO of OMV Middle East & Africa, “Oman’s leadership has created a peaceful Oasis based on a forward-looking vision and prudent stewardship of oil wealth. Far-sighted investment in infrastructure, job creation and economic diversification provide for citizens’ welfare and keeps politics calm.”
Indeed, Sultan Qaboos has directed oil revenues into an array of nation-building projects from airports and hospitals to highways and utilities. He also established the State General Reserve Fund in 1980 to responsibly invest surplus earnings through bonds and equity stakes. This cushions volatile oil prices and ensures future generations benefit.
Exploring the Middle East's Safest Destinations for Travelers in 2023 - The UAE Emerges as the Gulf's Most Popular Destination
With peaceful politics, luxurious amenities, and regional diversity all in one place, the United Arab Emirates has emerged as the go-to destination for travelers seeking extraordinary experiences in the Gulf region. While Saudi Arabia restricts access and Oman offers more understated charms, the UAE beckons visitors with superlatives worthy of a luxury shopping spree.
Let's start with the undisputed headliner: Dubai. This former pearl-diving village morphed into a cosmopolitan marvel in just a generation through visionary leadership and petrodollars. Today Dubai tantalizes travelers with a compelling list of world's-firsts and world's-biggests: tallest building, largest mall, biggest dancing fountain.
Yet scratch beneath Dubai's shiny veneer and you'll discover a fascinatingly multicultural city brimming with flavors from all corners of the globe. Wander through the gold souk in Deira elbow-to-elbow with traders from India and Iran. Sip mint lemonade at an Emirati cafe near the creek's abras while listening to the call to prayer. Feast on tender baby camel stew - washed down with Arabic coffee - at a Bedouin encampment on a desert safari.
Just an hour south lies Dubai's more sober sister, oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi. What it may lack in Dubai's dizzying energy, it makes up for with cultural gravitas and a serene ambience. Contemplate the genius of the Louvre Abu Dhabi's lattice dome filtering dappled light over artworks. Stroll the sprawling grounds of the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a vision in blinding white marble. Watch falcons sour against the setting sun during a traditional emirati dinner at Qasr Al Sarab desert resort.
Beyond the big cities, each emirate charms with its own personality. Sharjah wows with its restored arts and heritage district. Ras al-Khaimah provides a tranquil beach escape. Abu Dhabi's Al Ain oasis transports you back centuries amidst cool palm groves. Fujairah's dramatic mountains and archaeological sites beckon adventurers.
For Matador Network co-founder Ross Borden, “Dubai didn't build the tallest building in the world to impress you - it built it to impress itself. Abu Dhabi didn't spend untold billions on art museums and cultural centers to educate you - it invested those untold billions to educate itself.”